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Free camping in Norway

A freelancer's take in the NYT on the camping and hiking regulations in Norway (as compared to the US and other European destinations).

I actually don't mind the restrictions that are put on North American natural areas. I simply don't have enough faith in casual users to protect and manage sensitive wild areas to the same degree that people who care about and frequent these spaces do. 

I'm also cognizant that a lot of the areas we want to adventure into can be ecologically sensitive, and that having designated camping areas helps to protect some of these habitats. A trip to uncontrolled crown land here in Alberta will show you the care and attention that a lot of people bring to the backcountry - rutted quad trails, garbage, sprawling campsites, broken bottles and other trash left behind. In particular, my province is moving to take one of the premier mountain recreation areas that remains uncontrolled (David Thompson country) and bring it under Government regulation in the form of a provincial recreation area, something I'm totally in favor of. 

That said, I do think there should be a balance between protection and freedom of use. I just don't trust people to take care of our natural resources in a way that is sustainable. 

I think the cited article is pure bunk.  They focus on 11 popular areas, two of which do not involve hiking (autos or snowmobiles instead).  Mostly the permits are in place because of the large numbers of people who wish to do the trip.  I have applied for permits on my two ascents of Whitney (neither of which was by the trail) and was successful each time.  One simply must plan and prepare, and be fairly flexible.

I just checked my favorite wilderness area, extensive but which will go unnamed, and no permit is required to either park at the trailhead or camp within - just like it was fifty years ago when I was more active there.

If one desires a permit free trip (perfectly understandable) explore a little and check out the numerous opportunities available in this vast country.

It is all contextual.  Attempting to compare regulations and customs straight up, without regard to the cultures and population densities surrounding the areas under comparison, is a fool's errand.   

I cannot speak for Norway, but the the concept of friluftsliv is a relatively new mindset in the western hemisphere.  And we are still working out the bugs how to embrace this concept, in the context of our geography and cultural diversity that is the American people.  Americans considered the wilderness as something to be tamed and brought to heel, prior to the 20th century, killing all manner of fauna for food or because it was a perceived threat. Topics regarding bears and other "dangerous" wild critters are a regular posting on Trailspace; many Americans still fear the outdoors almost as much as others embrace it.  America has some maturing to go before society in general has integrated the outdoor life credo into our cultural identity. 

The writer praises the concept of loose Norwegian camping restrictions, particularly noting the regulation that permits camping on private lands.  But I am sure most Americans would chafe if a stranger decided to camp on their countryside property without prior consent, given Americans emphasize ownership prerogatives and obsession with personal boundaries.  And I imagine the writer, who is currently doing the PCT, will come to appreciate why some regions have tight regulations controlling where one can camp, and how many can enter a given area over time.  The writer is far too young to remember the good ol' days when scant few restrictions controlled activities in the Sierra where she is currently traveling.  But I remember.  Lakeside campsites blighted the the shorelines, and in fact killed many of the trees that took centuries to get established.  The soils of these campsites were black from the ash of wood fires, and every piece of downed wood was burned, not to mention picked from standing trees.  Meadows were deeply rutted by trails cut through them, versus around them, and streams ran foamy from thoughtless campers washing dishes and stuff in the water.  A lot has changed since regulations were tightened up, forty years ago.  The area actually looks a lot better.  Nevertheless popular trails have camp areas that endure hard use and still look it.  And more than a few campers are still poor backcountry citizens, willfully leaving their trash and thrashing the countryside.  Regardless things have improved, the trained eye can still spot the legacy of prior abuses along lake shorelines and meadow lands that the writer will mistakenly perceive as pristine.  Of course I dislike when regulations quota me out from a given venue.  But it keeps that venue from getting loved to death.  As for permit fees: the author is free to whine, yet I bet she overlooked the fact nothing is free, and that Norwegians fund the services maintaining these areas via a general tax, versus the US model of per use fees.  Six of one, half a dozen of the other.


Popularity drives regulations.  Less visited locales have fewer regs, in general.  They are often just as beautiful, just as challenging, and also provide solitude.  Don't confuse popularity with worthiness; they are not always the same.

I agree that this is context dependent. I totally support American-style permit systems for high demand areas and deeply appreciate the way they reduce impact and keep these places from getting overcrowded.

But there are fewer than 5 million people in Norway, and although people from other European nations and elsewhere in the world come to visit, it's quite expensive here and that also probably acts as a filter. At present the demand for backcountry camping just isn't that great.

I don't see a lot of camped-out sites in the areas where I spend my time, except maybe my backyard city forest area, Estenstadmarka, where local school groups, families, and youths may camp out in a few good spots on weekends, and even those sites are usually left trash-free.

Two other important elements are the landscape and weather. Afternoon thunderstorms aside, summer camping in the Sierra and elsewhere in the American west can be idyllic for days on end. Most of the Norwegian mountain landscape is above treeline, fully exposed to wind and weather.  Any place that isn't too steep and rocky to camp is likely to be too wet. Cold, wet weather can come at any time and persist for days, turning a backpacking-camping trip into a sodden, viewless slog (that makes the good days all the better).

So you can camp for free, but you might not want to. Regular TS forum readers have seen my trip reports and comments about Norwegian huts. They provide a safe and comfortable alternative to camping and tend to concentrate use and reduce impact. The trade-off is that you don't get to experience the raw, back-to-basics simplicity that wilderness backpacking-camping affords. I totally miss that, which is one reason that my wife and I have returned to the US a couple times for backpacking trips in recent years. There is no wilderness in the American sense in Norway -- sheep are allowed to graze in national parks. But when we're here, we do as the Weegies do and use the huts to full advantage.

Setting up camp 100 yards away from a Sierra lake on a warm afternoon is a sweet experience, but arriving soaking wet at a small Norwegian self-service hut, maybe finding it unoccupied, starting up a fire in the wood stove and making yourself at home isn't so bad either.

Thanks for the article share, BigRed. It's an interesting read.

I like the term "Friluftsliv."

September 21, 2020
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